The huge wildfire that has been burning into Yosemite National Park for the last two weeks may have been started by an illegal marijuana growing operation, a local fire official said.
Six days after the Rim fire broke out in the middle of the Northern California forest, Twain Harte Fire and Rescue Chief Todd McNeal told a community meeting the blaze was definitely human-caused.
In his Aug. 23 talk, a video of which has been posted on YouTube, McNeal said that the fire started in a section of the Stanislaus National Forest inaccessible by foot or vehicle and that it was “highly suspected” that an illegal marijuana growing operation that sparked the blaze.
U.S. Forest Service and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials will say only that the cause of the Rim fire is under investigation.
The blaze, the fourth-largest fire in California’s history, has burned 235,841 acres, or 368 square miles. About one-quarter of the burned area is in Yosemite National Park.
The fire has destroyed 111 structures, 11 of them residential, and is expected to be contained by Sept. 20, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. No structures inside the national park have been lost, officials said.
The blaze was listed as 75% contained Tuesday morning.
About 5,000 firefighters are battling the blaze, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Officials warned that smoke from the Rim fire, which started Aug. 17, was beginning to settle over Yosemite Valley, Wawona, Foresta and other areas, causing "air quality impacts," the Forest Service reported. Smoky conditions are expected to persist for the next few days.
Battling the blaze, the largest in California this year, has cost $60 million in state and federal funds, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Trevor Augustino said.
Six other fires are burning in California, down from about a dozen last week, with more than 8,000 firefighting personnel deployed across the state, Berlant said. There has been an increase in fire activity in recent weeks, he said, because of dry conditions, gusty winds and dry lightning that sparked several hundred fires.